A Georgia judge ruled the state's ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional Tuesday (May 16), reversing a measure approved by 76 percent of voters in 2004.
In his ruling, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Constance C. Russell cited a provision in the state constitution that limits ballot questions to a single subject and said voters should first rule whether same-sex relationships should have any legal status before deciding whether same-sex marriages should be banned.
"People who believe marriages between men and women should have a unique and privileged place in our society may also believe that same-sex relationships should have some place — although not marriage," Russell wrote. "The single-subject rule protects the right of those people to hold both views and reflect both judgments by their vote."
Gay-rights supporters had been anxiously awaiting Russell's ruling since Jack Senterfitt, representing the gay-rights organization Lambda Legal, challenged the amendment in November 2004.
"[Russell's ruling] protects the right of voters to make independent decisions on each independent issue," Senterfitt said Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.
Gay marriage and civil unions were already illegal in Georgia before the 2004 amendment passed. It added language to the state constitution that supporters felt would better protect the state from a future court challenge.
Lambda Legal and other proponents, however, argued the amendment was misleading because the ballot only mentioned gay marriage but the actual amendment also addressed civil unions and refusing to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue spoke out against Russell's ruling, saying the state defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
"The people of Georgia knew exactly what they were doing when an overwhelming 76 percent voted in support of this constitutional amendment," he told the AP. "It is sad that a single judge has chosen to reverse this decision."
Russell countered that procedural safeguards such as the single-subject rule rarely enjoy public support, "but ultimately it is those safeguards that preserve our liberties, because they ensure that the actions of government are constrained by the rule of law."
Perdue told the AP that the state is considering appealing the decision to the Georgia Supreme Court.